In today’s New York Times is a long article by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman entitled “Will Israel Attack Iran?” It is the best-informed article I’ve read on this subject yet. It is also rational and fair — there are no villains other than the Iranian regime. It is a must-read.
Bergman has interviewed Ehud Barak and several former Mossad heads. He includes a fascinating account of the various covert actions undertaken by the Mossad and perhaps other agencies like the CIA, to delay the Iranian weapons program.
There are voices in Israel that say that an attack on Iran would be ineffective or the Iranian reaction so damaging as to make even an effective attack a Pyrrhic victory at best. But the position of Defense Minister Barak and PM Netanyahu seems to be that a nuclear Iran is inconsistent with the continued existence of the state. They believe that there are only a few months in which to stop it, before the program has advanced to the point that an Israeli military intervention will be impossible.
They would like to see Iran stopped peacefully, perhaps a result of economic pressure. The next best option would be an American military operation. But the point of no return is farther off for the US than for Israel, due to its greater firepower and, to be honest, a lesser degree of concern. Iran is expected to hide what it is doing, to pretend to negotiate seriously, to put all the pieces of the puzzle in place except for the final assembly of a weapon. But at some point, Israel’s red line will be reached. If the US has not acted by then, Israel will be forced do so. Bergman expects that point to be reached sometime this year, before US elections.
All this makes sense to me. It is almost impossible to believe that the US will launch an attack on Iran in the next few months. I can’t see any advantage for the administration, which would be accused of pulling a “wag the dog” maneuver. The resulting oil shock, as well as possible retaliation against American troops in the region, or even terrorism against the US, would be blamed on Obama at the worst possible time.
But this makes an Israeli strike almost a certainty.
Israel’s intention seems to be to inform Washington at the last possible moment, in order to show respect for its most important ally, but not give it enough time to stop it. The US, on the other hand, will try to find out when Israel is preparing to strike. Both President Obama and Israeli officials have pointed to the high level of military cooperation between Israel and the US as a sign of a coincidence of objectives between the countries. But there may be other reasons it is advantageous for the US to be in close contact with the Israeli military. Some analysts have suggested that a joint military exercise planned for April was canceled due to Israeli reluctance to have 9,000 US personnel in the country at this time.
There is no question that the Obama Administration would like any action to be delayed until after the election. The issue is how far the US will go to prevent an Israeli attack before then. Opinions range from “not past diplomatic pressure” to “we will shoot at Israeli planes.”
I’m going to go with the first option. While I think the administration would rather avoid the political risks of doing the job itself, the goals of the US and its very influential conservative Sunni Arab allies would best be served by keeping Iran from going nuclear. It would be convenient for the administration to have Iran defanged, while Israel can be blamed for any unpleasant side effects.
Israel will probably find itself fighting Hizballah and Hamas, either preemptively or after they are unleashed by Iran in retaliation. There may even be attacks from other Palestinian elements who take advantage of the situation. At this point, we can assume that the US, UN, Europe, Russia, etc. will ratchet up the pressure on Israel in the name of ‘peace’, but actually to prevent any real change in the status quo. I hope Israel will be able to resist this pressure and finally crush the terrorist militias.
So there it is. I don’t blame my Israeli friends and relations who look ahead with trepidation toward what may become Israel’s most damaging war. In fact I understand those who say that there is no future in fighting one war after another, ad infinitum. I understand that a lasting peace would be far better than winning a series of wars, with their unavoidable human and material cost.
Of course I also understand that there is only one way to get this lasting peace, and that is by defeating the enemy soundly enough and often enough that they will understand that peace is to their advantage as well.